George Osborne: Saudi and Russian investors don't control the London Evening Standard
JC News|March. 11, 2019
A former UK Treasury boss who re-invented himself as an influential editor says that Saudi and Russian investors won't be allowed to interfere with coverage at his newspaper.
George Osborne said Monday that legal contracts protect the editorial independence of the London Evening Standard, the free newspaper he has edited since 2017.
"It's very straightforward. First of all, editorial independence is protected in the contract, but I think more important than that, I wouldn't edit this paper if I felt there were unacceptable restrictions on what I can report," Osborne, a former member of parliament and chancellor of the Exchequer, told CNN Business' Richard Quest.
The Financial Times reported in February that a Saudi investor named Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel had purchased 30% of the investment company that controls the newspaper. Lebedev Holdings, the investment firm, is majority owned by Russian media mogul Evgeny Lebedev.
Abuljadayel reportedly purchased a 30% stake of the Independent, another paper that Lebedev controls, in 2017. That led to questions over media ownership and transparency in the United Kingdom. Critics wondered why a Saudi investor would be interested in British newspapers, and some speculated the Kingdom may be purchasing media stakes as a soft power move.
Osborne said his newspaper would not be influenced by investors, citing its coverage of the "appalling murder" of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate.
"We have fully reported that, we have been extremely critical of the Saudi regime," Osborne said. "At the same time, here in Britain we're an open economy, there's a lot of investment falling into this country coming from around the world, including into its media."
"I think the days frankly when British newspapers were only owned by British people living in Britain, disappeared maybe a hundred years ago," he added.
Asked about whether an owner could influence staff through self-censorship, Osborne said the "proof is in the pudding."
"[Y]ou can see the product, you can see the paper," he said.
Osborne also said that despite having a Russian owner, the paper aggressively covered the attempted murders of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
"[W]e covered that on the front page day after day because it was a very important story and we were very critical obviously as you'd expect us to be of the Russian government, so I think some of these conflicts are perceived," Osborne said. "I am pretty confident in my independence, I am pretty confident in my news judgment that I will follow a story where it takes us."
In addition to his editing job, Osborne holds several advising jobs, including a part time but lucrative position at the investing house BlackRock. He also serves as chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which promotes the interests of northern England.
Asked about his own potential conflicts of interest, Osborne said "it's all declared and everyone knows about it" and that he should be judged by the newspaper he produces.
"I would like to hope that the signal I sent is someone who had a life time at the top of British politics, and left and could have worked full time in the city of London, or giving speeches around the world, has gone into newspaper and gone into this newspaper because I'm hugely optimistic about their future, which I know is not the current narrative," he added.
"And I also think it's a really important job that needs doing. I hope the fact that I've chosen to come into newspapers is seen as a vote of confidence."